Will Union Bosses Keep Shuttering Schools, Blaming COVID-19?

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Ominous Signs That NEA, AFT Dons Aren’t Done Exploiting COVID-19

After they successfully shook down federal taxpayers for an extraordinary $200 billion payout to overwhelmingly unionized government schools early this year, teacher union bosses might have been expected to decide they had gotten everything they could out of the COVID-19 crisis.

But as the new school year began there were signs that powerful officials of the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) unions were aiming to reap even more benefits from the pandemic at other people’s expense.

For example, just a couple of weeks before Windy City schools were set to reopen their doors with in-person learning accessible to schoolchildren at all grade levels on August 30, the hierarchy of Chicago’s AFT subsidiary unveiled a new, costly list of demands.

Radical Windy City union kingpin Jesse Sharkey claimed that, despite data showing that schoolchildren are less likely to fall seriously ill from COVID-19 than the seasonal flu, and that teachers face a lower COVID-19 risk than the average adult, draconian additional school prevention measures are needed.

If union bosses’ demands aren’t met, added Mr. Sharkey, Chicago teachers may be ordered out on strike. 

Teacher Union Boss-Prolonged School Closures Hurt Children Academically

Throughout the fall and winter and well into the spring of the 2020-21 academic year, full-time, in-person instruction was offered to only a minority of children enrolled in U.S. public schools, despite overwhelming evidence, available all along, that schools are not vectors of COVID-19 transmission. 

The single most important reason schools didn’t reopen is the enormous monopoly power and political clout of teacher union bosses. 

Special-interest laws now on the books in more than 30 states hand union bosses “exclusive” privileges to codetermine with school boards teachers’ pay, benefits, and work rules.

And more than half-a-dozen academic studies on the topic of “school reopenings and union influence” have found that “public school districts in areas with stronger teacher unions were substantially less likely to reopen for in-person instruction in 2020,” as Cato Institute scholar Corey DeAngelis noted in July.

As Dr. DeAngelis also noted, teacher union bosses “caused harm to children academically, socially and mentally by keeping schools closed for so long.”

Also in July, researchers from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a study showing U.S. elementary school students fell four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement during the pandemic. Results were even worse for children who suffered a greater-than-average loss of in-person instruction time.

After President Biden signed a Big Labor bailout including roughly $200 billion for education bureaucracies on March 11, the opposition of NEA President Becky Pringle and AFT President Randi Weingarten to school reopenings seemed at first to ease, noted National Right to Work Committee Vice President Mary King.

Union Bosses Indulging in ‘Baseless Fearmongering’

“But as the 2021-22 school year drew nearer,” said Ms. King, “Ms. Pringle, Ms. Weingarten, and other government union bigwigs began indulging in more and more baseless fearmongering about a supposed increase in risk for schoolchildren.

“In August, for example, Ms. Weingarten implied schools should not reopen unless there is ‘universal masking’ of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike, despite the fact that many schools around the world operated very safely in the 2020-21 academic year and this summer without mask mandates.

“Ms. Pringle and Ms. Weingarten are pretending their renewed hostility to school reopenings without draconian preconditions is the result of the emergence of the ‘delta variant’ of COVID-19, but there is no credible evidence it poses a bigger danger to otherwise healthy children than the original strain.

“The more plausible explanation is that teacher union bigwigs have decided they can get away with continuing to exploit COVID-19 as a means of squeezing additional money out of taxpayers.

“The proper response for parents and other taxpayers to such rapacity is to fight for revocation of government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges in state after state.

“The Committee has had several recent successes in this area. Just this spring, for example, Arkansas adopted a law that bars Big Labor from seizing monopoly-bargaining control of public servants who work at schools, colleges, many state agencies, and courts after being lobbied by the Committee.

“As even the late Al Shanker, a longtime national AFT boss, bluntly acknowledged, there is no ‘voice for students’ in the monopoly-bargaining ‘process.’ Students’ interests, Mr. Shanker added, are ‘basically . . . left out.’” 


This post was originally published in the National Right to Work Committee Newsletter. If you have questions about whether union officials are violating your rights, contact the Foundation for free help. To take action by supporting us and fueling the fight against Forced Unionism, click here to donate now.


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